Tweed Valley sunset

Pushing the boundaries, not the bike

And now for something completely different

After my tour of the singletrack highlights of the city of Edinburgh on Saturday I was in Glasgow on Monday. This time I was hooking up with an old colleague, Andy (just to be confusing), for a trip to Glentress. This, most iconic of trail centres, would be a very different experience. Where Saturday was about finding things that were unexpected, this was all about having a blast on purpose-built mountain bike trails. I was really looking forward to it.

Last time I was at the Peebles trail centre, was maybe six or seven years ago on a 100mm travel hardtail with 1.8” tyres. I recall the red route being a little hairy in places, mostly due to our introduction to braking holes in the trail, but otherwise a lot of fun. On an earlier visit I’d underestimated a tabletop on the Spooky Wood descent and ended up with my scaphoid in plaster.

I was curious what the trails would feel like all these years later with more bike and more experience under me. I was keen not to have a repeat of the Spooky Wood incident.

Time for some CPD

Andy is very much a product of the Seven Stanes. Very happy with rocky, technical trails and comfortable with the bike in the air. This was very much his home turf and he was keen to show off the best bits.

I am a fully qualified mountain bike leader. I am a pretty competent mountain biker in a variety of terrain. That does not mean there are no areas where I feel my skills might benefit from “development”. It boils down to being in the air and steep rocks, neither of which are easy to get in Hampshire. So part of the point was to get plenty of that in over the course of the afternoon to refresh and hone my skills.

Glentress has been, and may still be, one of the most visited mountain bike venues in the world. One of the joys of visiting on a Monday in the middle of November is that the place was really, really quiet (apart from the lads changing, wrapped in leopard print towels, in the car park).

We headed for the skills area for a bit of a play to get our eye in. We checked out some rock rolls and drops. All of which are bigger than anything I’ve encountered in Hampshire. It’s hard to find features where air time is compulsory. Drop in we did. First time: wayward, second time: better, third time: nailed and confident. I was getting my eye in and believing in my skills.

Bigging it up

Which is when Andy suggested we move on the freeride area. Some tabletops, about 3-4 feet across the top, a few berms and a step-up. All bigger than anything at my local trail centre. First time: intimidating but largely managed, second time: better and quicker, third time: confident and at pace. I was getting there. These were skills I have but don’t get much chance to work on at home.

So Andy suggested we move on to the bigger jumps. Hell, why not. These are probably 4-5 feet across at the start and bigger at the bottom. So we dropped in. Hit the first one, whoop. Hit the second, whoop. Hit the third, oh god, it’s a hip jump and the landing’s at an angle to the take off. Land it and slide the back wheel round to set up for the next one. Launch that and hope the landing’s in the right place. Catch berm and two more tables to finish. On the final one it seemed to take an eternity for the bike to come down, even then it was only the front wheel. Don’t panic, weight back and wait for the back wheel to land. Which it did, eventually. And done.

I’d got away with it. Just. But definitely outside of my comfort zone.

Let’s do that again.

Push back up and drop in again. This time the lines were better, the speed was better and I spent less time riding along on my front wheel.

Again. Better again. And crucially, more confident. Again, this time with the confidence to attack it.

It’s amazing how much succeeding at something at something can boost your confidence.

Anyway. Why were we here?

Soon enough we needed to get on our way: there was only so much daylight to play with.

And we had an appointment with Spooky Wood and the drop to the valley floor. All that stood between us and that was a big climb. Oh well, best get on with it.

"...make a little birdhouse in your soul"

“…make a little birdhouse in your soul”

After a considerable amount of twiddling, gurning, grinding and a brief pause for a sandwich while a robin landed on our bikes we arrived at the top of the hill. I had brief flashbacks to the last time I’d stood here with a hire bike, before coming to grief.

Concentrate, trust your skills and believe that your bike will do the job.

Drop in

Dropping in at Spooky Wood

Dropping in at Spooky Wood

It was brilliant. A helter-skelter all the way to the bottom. Tabletops were despatched, compressions were pumped through, puddles were manualled past and even the surprise rock drop was launched. It was great. I was looking ahead, seeing what was coming and picking my line. I was loving it, and catching Andy in places. Next section: more of the same, compressions, berms, small tables and the occasional steep bit. All the application of skills in an unfamiliar setting. I may not have been familiar with the trail but I was more than equal to the challenge. The tight section through the trees was much more like home with its slippery roots and leaf mulch. The bottom was just laugh out loud.

I grinned the whole way down. Even the bits where the tree cover meant it was almost dark.

In short I had a great day out. The free coffee at the end was a real bonus.

I can’t recommend Glentress highly enough. Thank you to all the trail builders there. I can see how much of a pasting the trails get and how much hard work goes into keeping them riding sweetly.

This is Luke McMullan riding the Spooky Wood Descent

Moral of the story pt.1

On Monday I went out to ride and have fun. I also chose to deliberately put myself in a situation where I was outside my comfort zone to begin with. I chose to use the opportunity to refresh and practice my skillset. By doing so, in a managed and progressive way, I had a great ride and was able to boost my confidence on terrain that’s hard to find down here.

The use of the first person pronoun is really important. I chose to put myself there. There was no pressure on me, no-one was egging me on, if I decided I really didn’t fancy something I could walk it.

When it comes to progressing and improving skills, peer pressure can be a terrible thing causing you to feel compelled to try things you are not ready for. It makes you more likely to make a mistake because you’re tense so it’s not a part of the way I ride, or the way I lead.

Placing yourself in a space where you feel confident pushing your boundaries and putting your skills into use is a good thing, coming from within and a desire to improve. I will support you in this whenever I can.

Moral of the story pt.2

When you say “I’m not feeling confident about this” I really do understand how you feel.

My desire to get better at riding my bike means I have to step outside my comfort zone in the belief that I have the skills to ride it. I know that feeling of having to attempt something based on belief rather than memory. I know that feeling of taking a deep breath and committing.

The setting for this feeling is different for everyone, the obstacle that causes you to pause is different for everyone. When I say that I understand, it’s not glib encouragement, I really do empathise with facing down uncertainty.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy

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